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Special Report: Sex Offender Safe Haven

BAY COUNTY, Fla. - Is your neighborhood safe for your children? What about your city? 

There are currently 417 registered sex offenders in Bay County, but where exactly do they call home? It's possible that a sex offender can live just up the street or around the corner. While state law places restrictions on where they can and cannot live but some restrictions are more lenient than others. 

With 417 sexual offenders registered, you'd be surprised by how close they live to you. Just type in your address in the FDLE search engine and every offender within a 5 mile radius appears. In some areas, more overwhelming amounts than others. But there are rules as to where they can and cannot go. 

"That residence cannot be within 1000 feet of a Day Care, a Church or a School. So we verify that residence and make sure it's in compliance with the State Law," said Bay Co. Sheriff's Office Captain, Michael Branning. 

Some cities even make amendments to that law. 

"A lot of municipalities will get with legal council and they will purposely devise a statute that makes it impossible to live in their city," said Waylon Graham, Attorney at Law.

The city of Panama City upped their ordinance to 2,500 feet back in 2006. The city also added stricter regulations saying bus stops, parks, playgrounds or other places children congregate were now also covered under the restriction.

Callaway also adopted the 2,500 feet ordinance, but since they are a smaller city, the ordinance makes it so no sex offender can physically live in their city. 

"You do occasionally run into someone that has no place to go and has no family. But then sometimes they would have somewhere to go but that residence would be in violation of statute," said Branning. 

Part of Captain Branning's job is checking up on registered sex offenders, a sometimes difficult task. 

"We had a problem at one time with people registering their residents in wooded areas where there would be no residence and now we require them to have a letter from the property owner if they're going to be staying in something such as in a tent on a wooded piece of property with no dwelling on it," said Branning.

He checks on offenders no less than every two months and on sexual predators every 30 days at a minimum. 

"It is a very detailed driven type of supervision where they monitor every aspect of them and everything that they do is monitored very very closely," said Graham. 

 

So what area has the largest concentration of sexual offenders, where is their safe haven? 

In cities like Youngstown, that go off the 1,000 foot ordinance, it's easier for those registered to find a place to call home. In fact, law enforcement says 11 sexual offenders live in a motel off 231 in the town. 

"I see them and I say, you are not allowed to come here," said Texaco Gas Station Employee, Alex Ali. 

 

Ali works at ther gas station up the road, barely even a mile away. But since it's so close to a school, registered offenders are prohibited. Once labeled as an offender, it stays with you forever. 

 

"You can have a 17 or 18 year-old young man having consensual sex with his 15 year-old girlfriend and then when her mom and dad find out and raise sand about it, he gets charged with the sex crime," said Graham.

Regardless of the crime, the title sticks and so does the stigma. 

"He's categorized the same as the proverbial child molester, Chester the Molester, the 60 year-old man that goes to the playground and fondles the little 6 year-old girl. The young man that I just described is viewed in the same manner," said Graham. 

Registered sexual offenders are everywhere. While more are concentrated in larger cities, they can still be close to home. To find out if your neighborhood is safe, you can go to the FDLE website and type in your exact address, the results may be shocking. 

The FDLE website categorizes the offenders and predators by their crime. It also provides a mugshot of the criminal and their specific address or general location if they are a transient offender. 

 


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